Process Goals vs Outcome Goals: 7 Key Differences

Goals provide you with a clear path to follow, which will ensure you take the right steps and decisions to meet your dreams and aspirations. But not all goals are created equal.

More specifically, some goals guide you to make progress along the way, like process goals. On the other hand, outcome goals show the ideal result at the end of the journey.

In order to successfully plan and accomplish your goals, it’s essential to know more about the process and outcome goals.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about these two types of goals to reach success in your life.

What are Process Goals?

Let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to run 26.2 miles. That’s a recipe for disaster. You need to break it down into smaller goals, or steps, that you can complete.

This is where process goals come in. A process goal is a target that focuses on the steps or actions to help you meet a larger goal.

Continuing with the previous example, your process goals might be to run 5 miles each week, sign up for a race, or buy a pair of running shoes.

Setting process goals are amazing because they’re clearly defined and something you can realistically achieve. By focusing on the process, you are much more likely to attain your lifelong goals.

What are Outcome Goals?

Everyone has dreams and aspirations. Whether it’s becoming wealthy, getting a promotion, or simply improving your health, we all have things we strive for. These are what are known as outcome goals.

They’re the ultimate result you hope to achieve, and they can be truly motivating. After all, it’s easier to hop out of bed in the morning when you have an ideal destination in mind.

Having an outcome goal allows you to plan the necessary steps and build a framework to accomplish your objectives. That way, you’ll be one step closer to your goal—no matter how big it may be.

Process Goals vs Outcome Goals

Outcome goals and process goals are two different kinds of goals people set for themselves. Here are the key differences you should be aware of:

1. Control

Outcome goals tend to be beyond your control because they usually can only be achieved after years of directed effort. In contrast, you have greater control over process goals since they zoom in on the specific steps to reach a goal.

To illustrate, while an outcome goal might be “lose 30 pounds,” a process goal could be “exercise for 30 minutes four days a week.” As you can see, exercising daily is a specific action.

Meanwhile, the outcome goal of losing weight has less leeway. You know you want to lose weight, but the necessary steps aren’t clear enough.

So you can’t always tell if you will accomplish outcome goals since it’s too far away. But you can control the individual tasks you complete to meet your higher goal, which is why process goals are your best friend.

As long as you put the spotlight on your process goals, reaching your outcome goals will come naturally.

2. Specific

When you set an outcome goal, it can be arduous to determine what exactly needs to be done to achieve it. This is especially true if your goal is large and complex.

Whereas process goals are much easier to define because they involve the clear-cut target you need to aim for. For instance, an outcome goal could be to “get a promotion.”

Then, the process goal could be to “network with industry experts” and “volunteer for high-profile projects.” These are specific, measurable actions to boost your chances of being promoted.

identify actionable steps

3. Planning

Outcome goals often don’t lend themselves to planning as they can be so long-term. That’s to say, how can you plan for something that might take years to reach?

On the contrary, process goals are all about planning. You may need to set aside time to brainstorm an action plan to achieve your goal.

From using a goal journal to goal-setting apps, you would have to take advantage of the resources at your disposal. Failing to do so might make it challenging to come up with actionable steps to attain your goal.

To put it as an analogy, you can’t develop a brilliant business plan overnight—you need to research and even ask your mentors for advice. The same goes for any other process goal.

4. Motivation

It’s possible to become discouraged when pursuing an outcome goal because the goal itself is usually a long way off. Although outcome goals inspire you to make a change, staying the course is another story.

After all, when you’re trying to lose 50 pounds, it’s hard to stay encouraged when you only lose one pound in a week.

But process goals can be motivating because they comprise of smaller accomplishments to achieve a greater objective.

With the last example, let’s say your process goal is to exercise for 30 minutes four days a week. Every time you successfully complete this goal, you feel rewarded. It gives you the energy to keep going until you finally hit your target.

5. Focus

Most people are familiar with the old adage, “The journey is more important than the destination.” This is certainly true when it comes to goal setting.

Outcome goals, such as “be a better communicator” or “get an A in math,” are focused on the end result. But these types of goals seem out of reach or even unrealistic at times.

But process goals are different here. Process goals have a narrower focus on taking small steps each day and developing good habits.

work hard for goals

Whether it is eating a healthy breakfast every morning or committing 20 minutes to daily reading. These goals are much easier to stick to because they involve making gradual changes in your routine.

Plus, focusing on the process helps you enjoy the journey and appreciate minor successes. The next time you’re setting a process goal, remember that it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.

6. Adjustment

Outcome goals are tougher to adjust than process goals. Why? Because your outcome goals are generally set in stone.

They don’t require significant adjustments when you’re already striving for them. For instance, you may set an outcome goal of getting into your dream job.

And unless something extraordinary happens, which leads you to adjust the goal altogether, there is an unlikely chance your outcome goal will change at all.

Process goals tend to be more flexible. This is because process goals are less rigid and can be adapted to reflect new circumstances.

As long as every step moves you closer to your larger objective, the process goal can be readjusted anytime.

7. Commitment

Achieving an outcome goal requires a great deal of commitment. You must be dedicated to your goal and willing to put in the hard work necessary to reach it.

That can be difficult, especially if you are pursuing a long-term goal. While process goals also require commitment, it’s not to the same extent. This is because they’re small milestones that demand less effort than outcome goals.

So if you’re having trouble committing to an outcome goal, consider developing a few key process goals instead. You’ll be able to knock down several mini-goals to reward yourself for doing productive work.

Final Thoughts

There is no denying that outcome goals are crucial. After all, they’re what we ultimately want to achieve.

But if you’re looking for a way to increase your motivation and stay on track, laser-focus on process goals instead of outcome goals. You’ll have a higher chance of staying the course rather than giving up midway.

And remember, the journey is more important than the destination. By committing to small changes daily, you can enjoy the journey to reaching goals and success.

Photo of author

Rei Shen

Rei is the founder of Success in Depth. Based in Washington, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He brings years of experience in goal setting to empower readers to reach their aspirations.